Otitis externa is an inflammation of the ear canal. The inflammation is usually caused by infection, although it can sometimes be due to allergy or irritation.
It is a condition that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) of the external ear canal, which is the tube between the outer ear and eardrum. It is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear” because repeated exposure to water can make the ear canal more vulnerable to inflammation.
Types of Otitis Externa
Acute otitis externa – this term means a person has had the condition for less than three months. Usually they will only have it for a week or so.
Recurrent otitis externa – this term means the condition keeps coming back. A person might have episodes that get better (or seem to get better) but then they develop the same symptoms again.
Chronic otitis externa – this term means the condition has lasted (persisted) for more than three months. Sometimes it can last for years. This is often because, even though they have had treatment, the underlying reasons for it are still there.
- Ear pain, which can be severe
- Itchiness in the ear canal
- A discharge of liquid or pus from the ear
- Some degree of temporary hearing loss
Usually only one ear is infected. With treatment, these symptoms should clear up within a few days. However, some cases can persist for several months or longer.
Otitis externa is an infection of the skin of the ear canal and is very common. The ear canal is a narrow, warm, blind-ended tunnel, which makes it a good protected environment for germs to grow in if they are given a chance. Most infections are caused by a germ (bacterium). Occasionally, they can be due to a fungal yeast infection.
Some things can make a person more prone to otitis externa, such as;
- Substances entering the ear
- Warm weather
- Excessive earwax
- Ear syringing to clear earwax
- Middle ear infections
Otitis externa sometimes get better without treatment, but it can take several weeks. The doctor can prescribe ear drop medication that usually improves the symptoms within a few days.
There are a number of different types of ear drops that are used to treat otitis externa, but they all tend to be used several times a day for about a week.
Being referred to a specialist may be possible for further treatment and advice if symptoms are severe or they fail to respond to treatment.
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